NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans Saints All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas is expected to miss the beginning of the 2021 season after he had ankle surgery in June, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Thomas sustained a high ankle sprain in the 2020 season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played intermittently for the rest of the season. He finished the year with 438 yards receiving on 50 catches.
His recommended time of recovery is four months, which would line up with him missing at least four games. The Athletic reported that Thomas could miss five games while he recovers.
Thomas was not made available to the media during the three days of minicamp in June, but coach Sean Payton said on June 10 that he was present and participating.
"We're still monitoring it and paying attention to it and scanning it and all those things," Payton said in June about Thomas' ankle. "He's getting treatment and doing the things that are necessary. So far, so good."
The news regarding surgery isn't new. It was reported back in January that Thomas would likely need "surgeries" to fix his torn deltoid and the injured ligaments in his ankle.
The Saints have a Week 6 idle week, so the team could place him on the regular season's physically unable to perform list if they do believe he'll miss the first five games of the season. Players who begin the regular season on PUP must sit out the first six weeks of the season, and then they have a 21-day window where the player can practice before being brought back to the 53-man roster.
The receiver room without Thomas features Tre'Quan Smith, Deonte Harris, Marquez Callaway, Jake Lampman, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, Jalen McCleskey, rookie seventh-round draft pick Kawaan Baker and undrafted rookie Easop Winston.
When Thomas was out last season, the Saints had veteran receiver Emmanuel Sanders available to lead the way, pacing the receivers with 726 yards receiving on 61 catches. However, the Saints released Sanders in the offseason due to salary cap constraints. He's on Buffalo's roster now.
The top returning receiver in terms of receiving output is fourth-year receiver Smith, who had 448 yards receiving on 50 catches in 14 games. The 2018 third-round draft pick out of UCF is in a contract year.
The player who led the team in receiving yards last season was running back Alvin Kamara, who finished the year with 756 yards receiving on 83 catches. The third-most productive pass catcher in 2020 is also no longer with the team, as tight end Jared Cook hit free agency and was not re-signed. Cook, who had 504 yards receiving on 37 catches last year, plays for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Before Thomas got hurt last season, the Ohio State product had sky-high expectations. He wanted to best his efforts from 2019, where he was the NFL's offensive player of the year and broke the league's single-season receptions record with 149 catches.
The news regarding Thomas is just the latest in disappointing news regarding Saints starters. Last week, starting defensive tackle David Onyemata was suspended for the first six games/seven weeks of the 2021 season after he tested positive for a banned substance.
Then, there's cornerback Marshon Lattimore's lingering court case in Cleveland. He was charged with a fourth-degree felony after police found a handgun in his possession during a traffic stop in March was allegedly stolen. There have been no updates in the case.
Taking Thomas, Onyemata and Lattimore into consideration, the Saints could very well suit up just 11 of their starters from their 2020 season opener. Quarterback Drew Brees has retired; tight end Josh Hill was released and has since retired; guard Nick Easton was released; defensive end Trey Hendrickson signed with Cincinnati; defensive tackle Malcom Brown was traded to Jacksonville; linebacker Alex Anzalone signed with Detroit; and cornerback Janoris Jenkins was released and now plays for Tennessee.